DUNCAN, Okla. – When Jerome Schneeberger was busy crisscrossing the highways that make up a big portion of the landscape, he was a champion in the rodeo arena.
Seven times he won his region, the tie-down roping title in the Prairie Circuit, made up of contestants and events in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. He also qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 11 times in 14 years; one of those years, 2001, he earned the coveted average championship in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been there, done that,” said Schneeberger, of Ponca City, Okla. “I was actually entered everywhere and was going to try to make the finals again, but then I thought about it. I just thought I’d stay home and enjoy it.”
That’s why the circuit system was developed in mid-1970s and why it’s such a valuable piece of the puzzle for most of the contestants who compete – they can work a full-time job and rodeo on the weekends, and they still have the opportunity to compete for championships. In fact, Schneeberger is working hard to qualify for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for Oct. 17-19 at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan.
He’s well on his way. The 37-year-old cowboy won the first round and placed in the short go-round to win the coveted title at the Dodge City (Kan.) Roundup Rodeo, which took place the first weekend in August. In all, he pocketed $6,727, which moved him to the No. 1 spot in the circuit standings with $9,991.
“I like this arena,” he said, standing just a few yards away from Roundup Arena, host of the rodeo that features the largest purse in the region. “It’s always been good to me. If it’s not one year, it usually comes back the next year, and I’ll win something.
“I think everything’s just clicking. You get a good horse, and you get in that groove. It’s fun right now.”
There were a number of circuit cowboys who found success through that hot August run in southwest Kansas. Young gun Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla., added to his strangle-hold on the bull riding race by adding $4,285 last week while placing in Dodge City and Abilene, moving his circuit earnings to $27,809. Meanwhile, Trevor Kastner made a solid move in the race by winning the first round, placing in the second and sharing the average championship with Texan Clayton Foltyn.
“This is pretty big for me because this is a pretty well-known rodeo, plus it helps for the circuit, too,” said Kastner, a two-time NFR qualifier from Ardmore, Okla. “This is also a tour rodeo with a bonus at the end of the season, so that helps, too.”
Kastner is third in both the world standings ($70,984) and the circuit money list ($11,277). He’s a long ways from catching Kimzey, but qualifying for Duncan as one of the top 12 in each event is vital. At the circuit finale’s conclusion, the year-end champions and the contestants who win the average titles at the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals then earn the right to compete at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for next spring in Oklahoma City.
“If a guy can win one of those circuit titles and go to Oklahoma City, it gives them a chance to win a lot of money there and one of the big titles in rodeo,” Kastner said.
Other circuit standings leader as of this week are bareback rider Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas; steer wrestler Stockton Graves of Newkirk, Okla.; header Andrew Ward of Edmond, Okla.; heeler Billie Saebens of Nowata, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell of Coleman, Okla.; and barrel racer Tana Renick of Kingston, Okla.
They’ll all be in a frenzied race through the remaining weeks of the season to see who earns those few spots for Destination Duncan.